I haven’t read all of Ray Bradbury’s books. Come to think of it, I’ve only read one. I’ve never read any of his famed short stories. I love “The Twilight Zone,” but if I’m not sure I’ve seen any of the episodes he penned. I never met the man, never exchanged letters with him.
Truth be told, I hadn’t thought about Bradbury much in recent years, not until I saw on Twitter that he died Tuesday at his California home. He was 91.
No, my interaction with Mr. Bradbury was brief. I was probably 13 years old. The summer between my eighth- and ninth-grade years, I purchased a mass market paperback copy of “Fahrenheit 451″ at Walden Books in the Kanawha Mall. It cost me $6.99, plus tax, according to the fading price tag on the back.
I pulled my copy of “Fahrenheit 451″ off my bookshelf this morning. My bookmark (made of a car magazine subscription card) is still in its back pages. Standing in my living room, I flipped through its pages and read a few passages. I remember nothing of this book.
I don’t remember the teenage girl who “told him of a past when people were not afraid,” as the back cover says. I didn’t even remember the main character’s name (Guy Montag). It’s amazing how little I can recall from this book that I’ve claimed for years “changed my life.”
But it’s still the truth. Reading “Fahrenheit 451″ was an experience that changed me forever.
I might not have become a writer, if not for Mr. Bradbury.
There’s one scene, which came at the very end of the book, that’s stuck with me. Montag has lost everything for his new-found love of books. He joins up with a band of hobos who memorize books to keep them alive. They tell Montag there are thousands more like them.
“And when the war’s over, someday, some year, the books can be written again, the people will be called in, one by one, to recite what they know and we’ll set it up in type until another Dark Age, when we might have to do the whole damn thing over again.”
That passage, along with the rest of “Fahrenheit 451,” helped establish in my young teenage mind the value of the written word. It let me know that words and the messages they convey are to be protected. They deserve preservation.
Soon, I started writing words of my own. Terrible, precocious essays in English classes. But I relished my freedom to write those words, and got my hackles up anytime I learned that someone else’s words were being restricted.
I discovered journalism when I was a senior. I still believe no other form of writing can better illustrate the importance of the written word. Politicians can do terrible things if a reporter’s not there, watching. A short article today can have big implications tomorrow.
Because of my brief encounter with Mr. Bradbury, I love words. I’ll love them until the day I die.
Hopefully I’ll follow the author’s example and write until the very end. But even if I don’t, even if age silences my voice or stops my hands, I know words will live on without me.
To further quote the hobo, “that’s the wonderful thing about man. He never gets so discouraged or disgusted that he gives up doing it all over again, because he knows very well it is important and worth the doing.”
Thank you, Mr. Bradbury.